Is community-based tourism still dependent on Western Capital?

Community-based tourism is on the rise. As opposed to mass tourism, this niche industry is built on top of local initiatives that are in the hands of the locals themselves. The projects are all about giving tourists “the local experience’ while reducing their carbon footprint and increasing the prosperity of the community. This makes community-based tourism the perfect alternative to mass tourism, which seems to have an ever-growing negative impact on the country of destination. But how independent is this form of tourism really? Will it give power to the locals or do their projects still rely on Western capital? And if so, what can we do to change that? I’ll tell you in this article.

Is community-based tourism still dependent on Western Capital?

Tourism development

For many years, tourism has played an important role in the development and conservation in of African countries and the conservation of their heritage and traditions. Here, tourism is often one of the highest income sources, and number one employer of local communities. Broadly speaking, there are two types of tourism, which are mass tourism and community-based tourism.

Mass tourism is characterised by large numbers of tourists concentrated in a small number of areas, all at the same time and during high season. This form of tourism puts great pressure on the environmental balance of holiday destinations by pressuring infrastructure, wildlife, available accommodations, and local communities. One of the most important features of mass tourism is that it’s highly dependent on Western capital, which also increases the degree of Western dominance and their control of the tourism sector.

Community-based tourism is seen as a favourable solution for self-sustaining tourism development and more independency. This form of tourism focuses on the benefits and the well-being of local people and protection of the environment. Community-based tourism provides a long list of benefits by involving the locals in the tourism experience, creating chances and job opportunities for everyone involved.

Now, it seems obvious that community-based is the only long-term option. But although local governments support community-based tourism as a strategy against poverty, mass tourism is still in development due to large profit margins.

"Community-based tourism depends on country image, tourist demand and the supply of other, often larger, tour operators"

The dependency paradox

Community-based tourism focuses on maximising benefits for local communities, but in doing this, they still depend on the existing tourism market. Larger enterprises are needed to promote African countries through commercials and established travel agencies, for the smaller communities to attract tourists. Community-based tourism therefore depends on country image, tourist demand and the supply of other, often larger, tour operators. This creates a dependency paradox, where community-based tourism is meant to replace mass tourism, but also needs it to exist.

A second problem lies in education. The aim of community-based tourism to maximise benefits for local communities includes educating locals and providing them with jobs. They are creating opportunities for them to make their own money. Unfortunately, most locals lack skills or knowledge, and this lack of expertise often results in unemployment among the local communities. As a consequence, skilled and trained people, often from abroad, are brought in to do the jobs for them. Again, this makes the local community dependent on Western knowledge, or at least for as long as the locals are not trained and educated.

Is community-based tourism still dependent on Western Capital?

Future insights

As goes for every industry and niche market, capital is an important factor in the development of community-based tourism. It is not surprising that this niche is extremely dependent on capital originated from the Western world. Every donation, funding, or investment made by the Western world creates more dependency and when this ends, it will be difficult for smaller initiatives to continue to exist. So, even though community-based tourism prevents money flowing out of African countries to the Western world, this niche market is still very dependent on the Western market, its expertise and its capital.

Fortunately, the demand market is slowly changing, meaning that community-based tourism starts to attract green and conscious tourists that want to support local development and conservation. At the moment, community-based tourism is already less dependent on mass-tourism, but there’s a lot of room for improvement. To achieve long term success, I believe it’s important that this form of African tourism becomes 100% self-sustaining.

What can you do?

Tourists have an important role in supporting the development of community-based tourism. This niche is highly dependent on the demand market, meaning tourists are the ones that need to make a change. Basic things that you can do are booking with a local (and sustainable) tour operator, engaging in local village activities, buying local handcrafts, staying in home stays, and eating in local restaurants. These small adjustments will not only support the development of community-based tourism, but will also enrich your holiday by getting to know the real Africa, its authentic communities, and its local traditions and kitchen.

What are your experiences with community-based tourism? Let me know by leaving a comment on Facebook!

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